Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Child and Family Services (PA-CFS) 12: Child Placement

When children are in need of out-of-home care they are placed with resource families or residential treatment programs that can best meet their needs for safety, permanency, and well-being, and best support their ties to family and community.


When placements are made by the court rather than the agency, the agency should collaborate with the court to advocate for appropriate placement and promote placement stability, as emphasized throughout this core concept.  An agency that provides emergency placements must document efforts made to meet the standards given the emergency nature of the placement. 
NA The agency does not match children with placements in out-of-home care.
2020 Edition




Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.
Note: Please note that this core concept addresses placement into foster care, kinship care, or residential treatment. See PA-CFS 28 for standards regarding relevant practices when arranging adoptions or guardianships.
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions; exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement. 
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented.  
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.  
Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  
  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.   
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner. 
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.   
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed service delivery infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.  
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Placement procedures including:
    1. matching and joining children and out-of-home care providers; and
    2. preventing and managing placement disruptions


  • Policy regarding placement preferences
  • Procedures for reviewing placements and supporting placement changes
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Parents served
    4. Children served
    5. Resource parents
    6. Residential treatment providers
  • Review case records
  • Review resource parent records

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 12.01

Children are placed with resource families that are licensed, approved, or certified according to state, tribal, or local regulation.


In some instances, children may be placed with kin on an emergency basis, including on the same day as separation from their homes, in order to facilitate family connections and minimize disruptions. When this is the case the agency may allow kin a period of time to work towards certification or licensing as a resource family home. However, consistent with the Adam Walsh Act, criminal and child abuse background checks and same-day preliminary safety assessments must be conducted prior to placement. Issues that may be revealed during these checks do not necessarily preclude placement of children in relatives’ homes, but should be one component of an overall assessment of relatives’ capacity and appropriateness. When the agency is not assuming custody of a child, the kinship caregiver’s home may be approved as a temporary placement option while the family works towards stabilization. 


PA-CFS 12.02

The agency identifies the best living environment for each child using all available information regarding children’s and potential caregivers’ strengths, needs, and resources, including:
  1. information obtained during initial and comprehensive assessments of children and families;
  2. information obtained during assessments and annual reviews of resource parents;
  3. information obtained during ongoing assessments and case reviews; and
  4. the needs of any children already placed with the resource family or residential treatment provider.


Needs to consider include, but are not limited to, needs related to language, any risk of harm to self or others, and any history of human trafficking or running away.  

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 12.03

In order to ensure children are in the most family-like and familiar setting possible, the agency makes reasonable efforts to ensure children are placed: 
  1. with siblings;
  2. with kin; and
  3. within reasonable proximity to their families and home communities.


Policy must require that preference be given to kin, and the agency must make reasonable efforts in accordance with applicable law and the requirements of the standard unless it is contrary to children’s well-being. Children should only be placed in residential treatment settings when joining a family is not possible. Deviations from these placement preferences must be documented in the case record with justifications and plans for ongoing contact with siblings or kin.


PA-CFS 12.04

American Indian and Alaska Native children are placed according to the preferences specified in the Indian Child Welfare Act. 


When the agency is working with American Indian and Alaska Native children and families, tribal representatives and service providers must be involved in placement decisions and moves to ensure compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which requires that preference be given to placements in the following order:  
  1.  a member of the child’s extended family;
  2. resource families licensed, approved, or selected by the child’s tribe; 
  3. American Indian or Alaska Native families licensed or approved by a non-Native licensing authority; and 
  4. an institution approved by an Indian tribe or operated by an Indian organization.
Alternative placement preferences established by the child’s tribe may apply, and the court may also take into consideration the preferences of the child or his/her birth parents. Agencies should work closely with the child’s tribe to identify placement options within the tribal community.  Families from all tribes to which the child has ties should be considered as placement options, and eligibility criteria should be consistent with the norms of the tribe.

Emergency placements must comply with the emergency proceeding provisions set out in the Indian Child Welfare Act. Efforts should be made to identify emergency placements that comply with the placement preferences in ICWA so as to prevent future placement changes in the event that a full child custody proceeding is initiated. 



PA-CFS 12.05

The agency promotes the stability of children’s living environments and prevents the need for placement changes through coordinated placement planning that: 
  1. ensures children, families, resource families, and residential treatment providers understand the steps involved in the process for a child joining a new living environment and receive support and information throughout; 
  2. provides all legally permissible information about children’s characteristics, behaviors, histories, and permanency goals to prospective resource families or residential treatment providers; 
  3. ensures that resource families and residential treatment providers make an informed decision to accept children into their care;
  4. arranges opportunities for children and parents to meet prospective resource families or visit residential treatment providers, when possible; 
  5. responds proactively to challenges that arise by assessing needs and arranging necessary services and supports; and 
  6. facilitates workers’ ability to spend more time with children, families, and resource families or residential treatment providers after children first come into new living environments or when challenges arise.

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 12.06

Resource family homes contain no more than five total children in the home, including no more than: 
  1. two children under the age of two;
  2. four children over the age of thirteen; and 
  3. two children in treatment foster care.


The total number of children includes all children under the age of 18 residing with the family and includes any children residing with the family for overnight respite care. Exceptions to the licensed or certified capacity may be made on a case-by-case basis to keep siblings together, to place children with relatives, to keep parenting youth together with their children, or for other extenuating reasons that directly support plans for children to be connected to relationships that are safe, nurturing, and intended to be enduring.


This standard is not applicable for unlicensed kinship caregivers.

Interpretation: When resource family homes are routinely licensed, approved, or certified according to state, tribal, or local regulation to contain a total of six children in the home, they may receive a rating of 2 when they can demonstrate they are meeting the needs of every child in the home.  This can be demonstrated by a combination of factors, such as:
  1. strong performance on safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes, for instance, low placement change rates;
  2. strong performance in resource family satisfaction and retention;
  3. manageable caseload sizes for workers;             
  4. ensuring space sufficient to maintain a safe and home-like environment; 
  5. increasing the number and frequency of visits by the worker to the home;
  6. offering additional respite or child care opportunities to resource families; and
  7. maintaining a lower capacity in homes where foster children and other dependents have higher needs.


PA-CFS 12.07

The appropriateness of children’s placements is reviewed regularly, and changes occur to support children’s best interests and permanency goals, as needed.
Examples: Changes that support children’s best interests and permanency goals may include moving from a foster family to an adoptive family, moving from a foster family to a kinship family, or other changes that bring children closer to family or community.


PA-CFS 12.08

Children, families, and resource families or residential treatment providers receive additional support during placement changes that includes:  
  1. sufficient advanced notice, provided at least 14 days prior to the move, when possible; 
  2. formalized discussions of the reasons for the move or disruption, each party’s feelings about the change, and as needed, interventions to address the reasons for the change;
  3. identification of a resource family or other setting that can best promote safety, well-being, and permanency; and
  4. referral to additional services or supports.